WHMIS to HazCom GHS – Background
WHMIS is changing! Within the next few months Canada will begin to adapt WHMIS to the requirements of the new Globally Harmonized System (HazCom GHS). The purpose of the change is to help international trade and improve worker safety. The HazCom GHS aims to standardize the way chemical hazards are classified and communicated throughout the world. Standard hazard classification and communication will eliminate inconsistencies from country to country and enhance worker safety. Under the HazCom GHS chemicals will fall into three main hazard groups: Physical, Health or Environmental.
You will need to be “in the know” about the changes and adjustments needed at your workplace. No matter of you operate a 5 person machine shop in Northern Alberta, or a 5000 employee auto assembly plant in Oakville, you’ll need to comply with the new rules, so here we go:
Why do we have the new “HazCom GHS” standard?
Before the HazCom GHS each country had their own regulations detailing the ways of classifying and handling chemicals. One chemical might be labeled as “Toxic” in one country, and then not labeled at all in another. The HazCom GHS puts everyone on the same page. It ensures every country classifies chemical hazards in the same way. So no matter where we go in the world we’ll find a consistent and predictable way of identifying chemical hazards and communicating the information to workers.
How does the new HazCom GHS system work?
In other words, the HazCom GHS is an internationally consistent chemical hazard classification and communication system. Not only are the hazard classifications the same all around the world, but the way the hazard information is communicated to workers and managers is the same. The main way of communicating chemical hazard information is through labels, and safety data sheets (SDSs).
Labels contain the first level of chemical hazard information workers will see. HazCom GHS labels will show the name of the material in the container, the kind of hazards it poses, and the measures to be taken for safe use and storage. In the old form of WHMIS, hazards are denoted by symbols or pictograms inside a “circle” border. The old WHMIS pictograms will change to adopt the HazCom GHS. The “circled” border will disappear and will be replaced by a “diamond” shaped border. Some of the old WHMIS symbols such as the “R” for “Dangerously Reactive” and the “Exclamation ‘T’” for “Other toxic Effects” will disappear. The HazCom GHS will introduce some new symbols. For most countries there are nine different HazCom GHS symbols (pictograms). In Canada there will be ten, since WHMIS will keep the old one for hazardous biological material (such as infectious bacteria).
Written “Hazard Statements” on the label provide more details of the exact type of hazard. Close to the pictograms, the label will show a “Signal Word” which will be either “Danger” or “Warning”. The Signal Words indicate the degree of hazard. “Danger” means the hazard is serious “Warning” means the hazard is less serious.
A label will also contain “Precautionary Statements” which tell us what protective measure to take to avoid the hazards. Precautionary statements will also give information on basic first aid.
Finally the HazCom GHS label will contain the emergency contact information of the chemical manufacturer or distributor.
The second level of chemical hazard information is the more detailed Safety Data Sheet (SDS), formerly called the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). The new HazCom GHS SDS will have 16 main headings. The 16 part format will be the same for all countries and all companies. No matter where in the world the SDS comes from the information will be arranged under the same headings in the same order. The information will inform workers and employers of the potential dangers, the proper safety precautions to use, and the regulatory measures to take. Here is an example of a new WHMIS SDS adapted to the HazCom GHS format: (PDF Download)
Of course, labels and SDSs will only be of value if managers and workers are trained to use and understand them. Most countries adopting the HazCom GHS are regulating a requirement for employee training, early on in the transition to the HazCom GHS. Canada will require such training within a few months of adapting WHMIS to the HazCom GHS.
In summary the aim of the HazCom GHS is to unify the classification of chemicals by their physical, health, and environmental hazards. A material classified as toxic in China will also be considered toxic in Europe, North America and around the globe. In addition the way the hazards and safety measures are communicated through labels and SDSs will be standardized from country to country.
The adaptation of WHMIS to the HazCom GHS has huge advantages for all stakeholders:
Who is HazCom GHS meant for?
- For chemical Suppliers and Manufacturers the HazCom GHS will help international trade, making it easier to trade across borders because the hazard communication regulations will largely be the same from one country to the next. HazCom GHS standard hazard and precautionary statements are available in many different languages and will make hazard communication on labels and SDSs consistent and simpler to achieve from one country to another
- For Employers increased safety for employees will result in reduced lost time from accidents and disease and reduced compensation costs. Improved productivity will be realized by incurring less down time for avoidable injuries and accident investigations. Once implemented, compliance costs for hazard communication will diminish. The consistent use of the HazCom GHS will ultimately reduce the cost of training, as older employees come to fully understand the system, and additional training is mostly required for contractors and new hires.
- For Workers safety will be greatly improved by standardized HazCom GHS labels and SDSs to identify chemical hazards and ways to work safely. HazCom GHS hazard communication will overcome some previous language barriers.
Becoming HazCom GHS Compliant
The best way to stay compliant is to become informed. The Canadian government has lots of information on your specific industry and business type.
Incom also offers HazCom GHS compliance kits to help you stay on top of upcoming training requirements and regulatory amendments. Here is our most popular product the HazCom GHS compliance kit. We also offer online training for your entire workforce to keep you fully compliant and on schedule – get your free trial here.
What are the next steps?
Learn how Canada will be adapting WHMIS to the HazCom GHS (along with schedule)